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John Coltrane

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John Coltrane

The ever growing love that I have for jazz was started because a friend told me to buy a John Coltrane CD the summer before my freshman year in college. For as long as I have known my friend he has always been interested in music and has played drums for the majority of his life. He had a few albums of Coltrane's and would always tell me I would love them. I remember the first time I heard that piercing voice that Coltrane gets out of his tenor saxophone. I took a trip out to Amoeba records with some friends and the first place I went was into the jazz room to find a John Coltrane album. Not knowing anything about him except that I liked his sound I bought the album The Art of John Coltrane. I got home and put it in my CD player and just sat in amazement as I listened to the album.

I absolutely fell in love with the first song on that album and that is why I chose it to be the first on the CD I made to accompany this paper. The song is titled "Moment's Notice" and appeared originally on the album Blue Train. It just grabs you right from the start of the song and I also just absolutely love the...I guess you could call it the chorus in the song because they keep going back to it throughout the piece. My friend let me borrow his Coltrane CDs over the summer and the pleasure that I received from hearing Coltrane play only grew. One of the albums that he gave me was Newport '63 one of Coltrane's live albums that was released. The CD has only four tracks on it but it is just about an hour of mind blowing jazz.

John William Coltrane was born in Hamlet, North Carolina on the twenty third of September in 1926. He started playing the Clarinet but soon fell in love with jazz and decided to switch over to the alto saxophone (Wikipedia). He played the alto saxophone until about 1950 when he decided to switch over to the tenor saxophone. It was with the tenor saxophone that he made his name known to the masses. Coltrane was in small groups here and there until he began playing for Dizzy Gillespie and then later some other well known jazz musicians. He received his first real big role when he was offered a spot in a quintet by Miles Davis. Davis is obviously an extremely influential jazz musician and is considered to be one of the greatest jazz musicians ever. He allowed John Coltrane to basically do what he wanted in his solos and allowed for Coltrane to explore and experiment.

Coltrane joined Miles Davis' quintet sometime during 1955. Interestingly enough it is said that when Davis was looking to form a new quintet his usual tenor saxophonist went missing so that Coltrane would be assured the spot (Wikipedia). Sadly, like most musicians, Coltrane developed a heroine addiction and that is considered to be one of the reasons for the breaking up of the Mile' quintet. Mils Davis was once himself a heroine addict and so chances are that he saw what was happening to Coltrane and did not want to have to deal with everything that goes along with a heroine addict. However, Coltrane had already made a name for himself during the two years that he played with Miles Davis.

As if playing with the legendary Miles Davis was not enough, John Coltrane played alongside Thelonious Monk at the famous New York's Five Spot. It was in 1957 when Coltrane released his well known solo album, Blue Train. After the release of that album Coltrane would continue on and make many different recordings, some of which were not released until years after his death. A new live recording of John Coltrane was just released earlier this year. After Coltrane's gigs with Thelonious Monk he was able to overcome his heroine addiction and reached a turning point in his life. "Within a week, he relinquished his drinking, smoking, and drug habits (although the smoking habit returned at times). These dramatic changes symbolized his rededication to God--the God whom he had learned to trust and obey as a young child. Coltrane believed that by bettering himself and rededicating himself to God, his music would also benefit, for it was the sinful, secular activities and lifestyle that caused his music to suffer and him to be fired from one of the best bands of the day" (Price). The best band that Price refers to is obviously the Miles Davis quintet. With the new changes in Coltrane's life he rejoined Miles Davis and really developed what would be his voice in jazz.

John Coltrane developed his fast, flowing, and compressed sound within his solos while playing with Davis. In this group he was able to create an almost constant wall of sound being directed at the listeners. Ira Gitler coined the term "sheets of sound" that is used to describe Coltrane's sound (Larson 188). Personally I feel as though it is the perfect term to use when talking about what it sounds like when Coltrane is blistering through his solos. Often times you lose track of time when listening to one of his solos because of the speed and the "sheets of sound." Soon after recording with Davis on the album Kind of Blue, Coltrane went on to record his own landmark album titled Giant Steps. In an article online Quincy Troupe feels that is the album that really established Coltrane as master of the tenor saxophone. This album really sets the bar for improvisation. Coltrane uses unconventional chord changes that blow the mind because of the speed at which they are done throughout this album.

Coltrane would leave Miles Davis' group shortly after Giant Steps and would form his own quartet in which he used much of what he had learned from Davis to lead the band. The band consisted of bassist Jimmy Garrison, drummer Elvin Jones, and pianist McCoy Tyner. One of the best connections in the group was the pairing of Tyner and Coltrane. The reason the two worked so well together is because of the way that Tyner played the piano. He is able to recreate Coltrane's "sheets of sound" on the piano and also developed a style of playing that is copied by many different players today. Within this group Coltrane also began to use influences from India in his compositions and theories. He was one of the first to incorporate Indian themes into music and was later followed by the more televised visits of the British band The Beatles.

Free jazz was growing in popularity which allowed the free jazz musicians to not have to worry with the small amounts of rules that there were in jazz. It did not hold back the musicians so they were free to experiment with and use a much wider range than they could have before. Being a classification it is hard to define because music cannot really be put into a genre, especially jazz because it is the voice and feelings of each individual player. However critics were down playing

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